Apr 22

April 22.10: About Last Night: The hole in the middle.

It is easy to look at any Mets’ loss Oliver Perez starts and point at him as the reason. While Perez wasn’t nearly as sharp as he was in St. Louis, the Mets had a chance to win despite the three runs he gave up.

The Mets lost last night because their bullpen gave up six runs, a reminder rankings two weeks into the season are meaningless.

Most disconcerting from last night was the continued lack of production from the heart of the order, 3-4-5 hitters David Wright, Jason Bay and Jeff Francoeur, who combined to go 2-for-9.

Wright has 14 strikeouts, roughly one a game, and has been susceptible to breaking balls off the plate. Bay is not seeing the ball well at all, evidenced by 22 strikeouts. And, Francoeur, after a 10-game hitting streak to start the season, is on a 0-for-22 slide that began with the 20-inning game in St. Louis.

“I think once they get a few hits, any type of hits, they’ll get going,’’ manager Jerry Manuel said. “I don’t see fatigue as an issue. I don’t see lethargic legs. I see good bat speed.’’

Because rest isn’t the immediate answer, Manuel needs to consider breaking up the order of the three right-handed hitters, and indicated Ike Davis or Angel Pagan are options.

Currently, Bay is drawing the most concern, and Manuel said batting him behind speed might be the answer, and in that regard, he’s not letting go of the idea of moving Jose Reyes to the third slot in the order.

However, Manuel also was open to the idea of batting Bay second.

This has worked before with Wright and it could work for Bay. The problem is he’ll still have three righties in a row because he’s not going to slot Davis or Pagan clean-up.

Another possible solution is to keep batting the three righties, but mix up the order.

Apr 21

April 21.10: Chat Room, Game #15 vs. Cubs: An Ollie P. encore?

With a victory tonight against the Cubs, the 6-8 Mets would win their third straight game and first series of the season.

On the mound is Oliver Perez, who is coming off a solid start last Friday at St. Louis when he gave up one run in 6 1/3 innings.

Perez worked quickly and got ahead in the count in that game, spotting his pitches low and on the corners. It was how the Mets have wanted him to work for years.

He’ll be backed by this line-up:

Jose Reyes, SS
Luis Castillo, 2B
David Wright, 3B
Jason Bay, LF
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Ike Davis, 1B
Rod Barajas, C
Angel Pagan, CF
Oliver Perez, LP

Offensively, Wright and Bay have been strikeout machines lately and Francoeur’s hot start is now a memory. On the upside, with four hits Reyes might be getting into a groove.

Ryota Igarashi was placed on the disabled list today with a strained left hamstring (he was replaced by Manny Acosta), which leaves the eighth inning to Pedro Feliciano and Fernando Nieve.

Apr 17

April 17.10: Random thoughts: On Perez, Bay and Reyes; line-up.

The question was raised last night that whether Oliver Perez’s diminished velocity has helped in becoming a pitcher rather than a thrower. While last night’s 6 1/3 innings was a start, it’s too small a sampling to make a definitive conclusion. However, it was a very good sign and something that bears watching.

Perez didn’t blow away any hitters, but was effective in spotting the ball on the corners and getting ahead in the count. Perez pitched last night; he didn’t overpower. And, if last night is a sign of things to come, then maybe ….

But, I regress. I vowed not to get on the Ollie Bandwagon until there’s some consistency. String together four, five games like this and I’ll jump. Until then, I’ll view with cautious optimism.

That being said, did Jerry Manuel do the Mets a disservice when he pulled Perez when he did? You’d have to say yes based on what the bullpen did, but I got the feeling Perez was spent so I can’t blame this on Manuel. Afterall, the bullpen, for the most part has been stellar.

****

Jason Bay is having a rough time, but his track record said he’ll hit eventually. Even so, with Jeff Francoeur on a tear, maybe Manuel ought to consider moving him to the clean-up slot and dropping Bay. Try to take advantage of Francoeur while he’s hot. The flip side, and the gamble, of course, is moving him up might change his approach.

One thing I don’t agree with, it slotting Mike Jacobs between Bay and Francoeur. The idea is to split up the right handers late in the game. But, what about the previous two or three at-bats? Seems counter productive to adopt a strategy for the late innings and discount two-thirds of the game. I could see it if Jacobs was hitting, but he’s not. It’s time to drop him in the order.

Speaking of dropping hitters in the order, Manuel might have had a change of heart when it comes to moving Jose Reyes into the three hole. He says now he doesn’t want to interfere with his recovery from a thyroid disorder.

****

Here’s this afternoon’s line-up:

Jose Reyes SS
Luis Castillo, 2B
David Wright, 3B
Jason Bay, LF
Jeff Fancoeur, RF
Fernando Tatis, 1B
Rod Barajas, C
Angel Pagan,CF
Johan Santana, LP

Mar 22

March 22.10: Questions down the stretch.

When pitchers and catchers reported Feb. 18, I posted five key questions the Mets faced heading into spring training. With two weeks remaining, there are issues with four of those five concerns.

Question: What is this team’s attitude?
Assessment: By all accounts, it is good and positive. The Mets aren’t rolling through their spring schedule, but there have been no issues of lack of hustle and laziness. David Wright said the Mets need to use last year’s embarrassment as a motivator. Jason Bay is fitting in and Jeff Francoeur has been a positive influence. So far, so good, but they haven’t played any games that count yet.

Question: How healthy is this team?
Assessment: Injuries sabotaged the 2009 season, and already two of the team’s core will open the season on the disabled list and likely won’t be ready until May. Carlos Beltran’s knee is responding well to rehab and Jose Reyes’ hamstring feels good. However, Reyes’ issue is his thyroid and one wonders how that will be with the riggers of the season. Reliever Kelvim Escobar, penciled in as a set-up man, has missed the entire spring with shoulder pain. There have been no problems physically with Francoeur, Oliver Perez, Johan Santana and John Maine, all with recent surgery on their resume.

Question: What is the status of the three pitching questions, Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez and John Maine?
Assessment: These three guys represent the season’s key. If they do well, then the Mets can contend. The Mets didn’t make any rotation additions this winter because they believe in the upside of these three. It has been an up-and-down spring for all three, but Perez has been refreshingly positive. However, none have performed to where the Mets can say they are in the clear. The concerns remain.

Question: Who is fifth starter?
Assessment: Fernando Nieve, Jon Niese, Nelson Figueroa and Hisanori Takahashi are in the mix. Takahashi has looked the best, but he hasn’t pitched enough to be stretched out. Niese has options remaining, so they could do the safe thing and send him out and protect someone else. Jerry Manuel said he’ll use a fifth starter from the start, so there will be no hiding him with the off-days in April. This is the biggest decision remaining in camp.

Question: What is the make-up of the bullpen?
Assessment: The biggest sub-question is whether Jenrry Mejia goes north in the pen and what role he would have. With his stuff, he’s a closer in waiting, which makes me think eighth-inning set-up. But, will the Mets expose him to that or put him in a low-pressure role. To me, that’s defeatist thinking. If you’re afraid to use him, then why carry him? Losing Escobar went a large part in opening the door for Mejia. So has, the general ineffectiveness of the relievers. If Takahashi doesn’t make it in the rotation, it could be him. Any of the losers for the fifth-starter could also fit as the long man. Bobby Parnell is still around, but he might be a casualty if they keep Takahashi in the pen. Kiko Calero and Ryota Igarashi will make the roster. Pedro Feliciano is still the only lefty of substance.

Feb 24

Feb. 24.10: Wondering about Frenchy.

His thumb is good, so that shouldn’t be an issue with Jeff Francoeur. That doesn’t mean the Mets’ right fielder isn’t without questions or concerns.

Francoeur’s attitude – and his performance – was a breath of fresh air in a stagnant clubhouse of a listless team last summer. He played with an energy the team had been lacking, bringing with him from Atlanta that “grit” the Mets have long been accused of lacking.

However, Francoeur has been an enigma for several years, with his stock falling since he hit a career-high 29 homers with 103 RBI in 2006. Believe it or not, that is the only season he’s hit 20. He hit 19 with 105 RBI in 2007, but his numbers have been on a downward spiral since.

That’s probably why he cost the Mets only Ryan Church.

Francoeur cited a change of scenery as giving him a lift last season, and perhaps that was the case. He hit .311 with 10 homers and 41 RBI in 289 at-bats for the Mets. That projects to a decent season of a little more than 20 homers and 82 RBI. Even so, it is still shy of his best season.

So, what do we expect from Francoeur if healthy and him getting over 600 at-bats? Would it be the change of scenery and a new Francoeur? Will it be another disappointment?

Not a lot has been made of Francoeur being an issue, but his career is at a crossroads and it will be interesting, and important, to the Mets to find out in which direction he’s going.